20 August, 2009

Why Employers Need Mystery Job Applicants

If the newest HR buzzword - "employer branding" - were more than just another pitiful, pathetic HR cry for a "seat at the table" and if employers were serious about protecting and enhancing their brands, employers would hire "secret shoppers" to "shop" their employee selection process - like restaurants and retailers hire secret shoppers to identify bad service.

I said this in a LinkedIn group where people were swapping their "bad interview" stories. Several HR people told me it was a great idea but nobody told me they were actually going to implement my suggestion.

When I hear people who do more brand damage in a single day than their marketing and PR departments could counterbalance in a year prattling on about concepts they don't understand - like brand - my mind searches for a metaphor. The first thing I came up with was the incongruity of Pat Boone singing heavy metal standards like "Crazy Train" and "Smoke On The Water" as he did in his 1997 album, "In A Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy". But that metaphor doesn't work because there's no hypocrisy involved in Pat Boone's covers of hard rock tunes. When Pat Boone sang "Holy Diver" he wasn't pretending to be something he's not. He wasn't trying to deceive anybody into thinking that the famously straight-laced, white shoed, evangelical, Republican 50s crooner had become a hotel room-wrecking hard-rocker. No, when Pat Boone mouths words that are totally out of place on his lips, it's funny and entertaining. Boone is making fun of himself and inviting us to laugh at him laughing at himself. In fact, by so unconvincingly playing against his own brand, Boone actually enhances and establishes his own brand. The difference between Pat Boone's amusing and endearing album and the "employer branding" initiatives that are all the rage these days in HR circles, is the difference between irony and insincerity, the difference between empathy and insensitivity. It's even the difference between sophistication and naiveté.

No, HR departments talking about "employer branding" is not like Pat Boone singing metal standards.

It's like Milli Vanilli pretending to be entertainers. It's deceit. It's fraud.

And job applicants draw unflattering conclusions about companies who let hypocrites and frauds interview candidates.

And while we're tossing around clichés ,like that HR favorite "a seat at the table", I actually think HR should have a "seat at the table" - but not before they've been "called on the carpet" and "taken to the woodshed" for lip-syncing about brand and then "taken to school" on what brand really is. By "taken to school", I mean that the CEO or somebody acting on the authority of the CEO needs to lock HR people in a room and not let them out until they understand that a company's brand is either enhanced or diminished by every contact with job applicants and that every job applicant tells his neighbors, his friends, his co-workers, his colleagues and his relatives about how he was treated during the selection process.

I believe every bad interview story I hear, by the way, because I have experienced so many bad interviews myself and, on the basis of my own experience alone I can believe that somewhere in America right now, there is a job applicant being told a dirty or offensive joke or asked an illegal question about their religion, their sex life or their health.

On the basis of my own experience alone I believe that somewhere there is a job applicant being pumped for dirt on the previous interviewer and that somewhere in America right now there is an interviewer having what appears to be some kind of mental breakdown right in front of the job applicant.

On the basis of my own experience alone I believe that somewhere in America right now, there is a 50-something job applicant being handed a paper job application while younger applicants are being seated at computers to apply digitally.

On the basis of my experience alone I believe you if you tell me that a 20-something interviewer who thinks C++ is a key signature started speaking l-o-u-d-l-y and s-l-o-w-l-y to you when she saw you use reading glasses to fill out an application.

And I know that somewhere in America right now there is a job applicant being scheduled for his or her 7th or 9th or 15th job interview with an employer that would do only slightly more brand damage if they leaked chemicals into the drinking water or ripped off their employees' retirement funds.

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